The Hypocrite – Swan Theatre, Stratford on Avon

Writer: Richard Bean
Director: Phillip Breen
Reviewer:  James Garrington

One thing you can pretty much guarantee with a Richard Bean script – you won’t be bored.

Set at the beginning of the English Civil War, The Hypocrite is based on a true story. Hull has the largest military arsenal outside London – with signs of civil war looming, whoever takes control of it will have a big advantage in any coming conflict.

Meanwhile, Sir John Hotham is desperate to raise the £2000 needed for his lovesick daughter’s dowry when a messenger arrives bringing him £1000 to secure the town for the King. On the same day, another messenger brings £1000 for him to take the town for Parliament. Dowry sorted, all Hotham needs to do is work out how he can be on both sides in a war, let the King in at the same time as keeping him out, and above all not lose his head in the process.

Mark Addy (Hotham) is the eponymous hypocrite and delivers with some superb comic timing. Sometimes pompous and officious, sometimes desperate, and usually with a delightfully deadpan expression, Addy seems to be made for this sort of role. He delivers gag after gag with panache and manages to make the character likeable – no mean feat when you consider that he is an unprincipled wife-abuser and beater of servants.

The wife on the receiving end of his abuse is Lady Sarah, played by Caroline Quentin who gives us a lesson in how to give as good as she takes, as the pair trade more insults than you would think possible between a married couple. Aggressive towards her husband, yet brazenly lecherous towards anyone else who seems to show an interest, the role seems a little underwritten but Quentin certainly makes the most of her time on stage.

Sarah Middleton gives a nicely judged performance as Sir John’s daughter Frances, a vacuous, love-struck girl who blames her troubles on being the middle child – number 9 of 17. She’s just discovering the joys of new writer William Shakespeare, which opens the doors for whole piles of comedy as the play progresses. There are delightful performances too from Jordan Metcalfe (James, Duke of York) and Rowan Polonski (Prince Rupert) who turn from slightly effete Cavaliers to downright camp fish-sellers in their attempt to hide within the town.

Danielle Bird makes a wonderful old servant as Drudge, showing some lovely physical comedy skills as she finds herself left on a hook, flung down a cellar, knocked over and clinging to a drawbridge, and Laura Elsworthy (Connie) is both commentator and servant, apparently the only sane and sensible character in the play who always has a plan to save Hotham from his indecision.

Richard Bean’s script, which contains some adult themes, is very much the same mould as his One Man, Two Guv’nors, jam-packed with humour and full of running gags. In fact, there’s so much here that it would be impossible to get it all first time round and you almost need to see the play again to pick up the bits you missed the first time. It’s a sort of blend of Blackadder and Monty Python, with touches of Morecambe & Wise, Tony Hancock and large dollops of panto and farce thrown in for good measure – and it’s often hysterically funny, helped by the skills of a strong cast and sure-footed direction from Phillip Breen.

If you’re looking for high drama, this is not the place to find it – but if you want a light-hearted riotously funny and hugely entertaining romp then you’re in for a treat with The Hypocrite. Definitely recommended for a good night out.

Runs until 29 April 2017 | Image: Pete Le May ©The RSC

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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